Wednesday, August 29, 2007

In Plain Sight

The Clintons have long been known to have questionable associations with fundraisers that ought to not only raise eyebrows, but criminal investigations. Marc Rich comes to mind.

Well, it seems that one of Hillary's best fundraisers is someone who has been wanted by law enforcement for 15 years, and yet was hiding in plain sight - right next to Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY):
For the last 15 years, California authorities have been trying to figure out what happened to a businessman named Norman Hsu, who pleaded no contest to grand theft, agreed to serve up to three years in prison and then seemed to vanish.

"He is a fugitive," Ronald Smetana, who handled the case for the state attorney general, said in an interview. "Do you know where he is?"

Hsu, it seems, has been hiding in plain sight, at least for the last three years.

Since 2004, one Norman Hsu has been carving out a prominent place of honor among Democratic fundraisers. He has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions into party coffers, much of it earmarked for presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

In addition to making his own contributions, Hsu has honed the practice of assembling packets of checks from contributors who bear little resemblance to the usual Democratic deep pockets: A self-described apparel executive with a variety of business interests, Hsu has focused on delivering hefty contributions from citizens who live modest lives and are neophytes in the world of campaign giving.

On Tuesday, E. Lawrence Barcella Jr. -- a Washington lawyer who represents the Democratic fundraiser -- confirmed that Hsu was the same man who was involved in the California case. Barcella said his client did not remember pleading to a criminal charge and facing the prospect of jail time. Hsu remembers the episode as part of a settlement with creditors when he also went through bankruptcy, Barcella said.

The bulk of the campaign dollars raised by major parties comes from the same sources: business groups, labor unions and other well-heeled interests with a long-term need to win friends in the political arena.

But the appetite for cash has grown so great that politicians are constantly pressured to find new sources of contributions. Hsu's case illustrates the sometimes-bizarre results of that tendency to push the envelope, often in ways the candidates know nothing about.
That ability to package smaller donations into larger amounts should also raise eyebrows. He was able to raise more than $200,000 from the Paw family in California:
One example of the kind of first-time donors Hsu has worked with is the Paw family of Daly City, Calif., which is headed by William Paw, a mail carrier, and his wife, Alice, who is listed as a homemaker.

The Paws -- seven adults, most of whom live together in a small house near San Francisco International Airport -- apparently had never donated to national candidates until 2004. Over a three-year period, they gave $213,000, including $55,000 to Clinton and $14,000 to candidates for state-level offices in New York.

The family includes a son, Winkle Paw, who Barcella said was in business with Hsu. Another son works for a Bay Area school board, while one daughter works for a hospital and another for a computer company.
How exactly was the Paw family able to afford giving so much money to the candidates over that period of time? The family's home near the SF Airport suggests that this isn't exactly a family rolling in the dough. Is this nothing more than a money laundering scheme to hide where the money is truly coming from in order to skirt election and campaign finance laws?

There's definitely smoke rising from this whole mess - and I suspect that there's much more to the story than some innocent explanations. Flip points out that the pattern of donation behavior is indicative of the need for further investigation.

Also, he notes that the California Paws took an interest in supporting Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) in his bid to become mayor of NYC. Curious. Very curious.

It didn't take long for many of those Democrats named in the articles to divest monies donated by Hsu. Among those claiming to donate the money: Sen. Clinton, Al Franken, Reps. Michael Honda and Doris Matsui of California and Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania.

There are plenty of other politicians who haven't dealt with the issue, but I'm sure they soon will.

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